“When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.” We often proclaim these words, based on the text we read this morning from First Corinthians, at the Elevation of the Mass, when we adore the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and so recognise our Risen Lord in the Breaking of Bread. From the very beginnings of Christianity and the Christian Church, from the Upper Room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples to the Cenacle where, together with Our Lady, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, our fathers and mothers in the faith have believed without doubting in the word spoken by the Lord and in its power, the power of grace, to bring about what it says, as in the beginning of creation God had said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. This is the faith of the Church today. This is our faith. When Jesus says during the Mass, “This is my body, which is given for you,” and “This is the cup of my blood, which is shed for you,” we know that his word is true and what he says he does.
But it is not only in the Real Presence that Christians believe, for Jesus asks us to “do this as a memorial of me”. The Mass, the Eucharist, is a memorial of the whole life of Christ from the moment of his coming from the Father by the working of the Holy Spirit to the moment of his return to the Father and the outpouring of the same Spirit. In other words, the Mass is a commemoration and a celebration of the Incarnation and of the fruits of the Sacrifice of the Word made flesh. What is more, we anticipate and pray for his Second Coming as Judge of the living and the dead.
When we talk about the Sacrifice of the Mass, we naturally think of Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion and Death, and, of course, in the Mass in a very powerful way we are totally immersed in the Cross of Jesus, in that aspect of his sacrifice, but the whole of his life is sacrificial, for in him all things are made new, all things are made holy. And so it is that in the Mass we celebrate the whole of the Mystery of the Incarnation, the whole Christ event: his Conception in the Virgin’s womb, his Nativity in the cave of Bethlehem and his lying in the manger, his Circumcision and first shedding of the Precious Blood for our redeeming, and so on. Every moment and aspect of the life of Jesus is Sacrifice, including his Resurrection. It is Christ in his fullness whom we celebrate and whom we receive at Mass for in the Son we celebrate and receive the Father and the Holy Spirit. God though three persons is but One and in communion with Christ we are united to the Holy Trinity.
These are mind-blowing thoughts, not easy to grasp, yet nothing could be simpler. God is pure and utter simplicity. It is human sinfulness that has complicated things often beyond our ability to believe and understand. But there is something more. In today’s Gospel we read St Luke’s paired down version of the feeding of the five thousand. For one thing there’s no small boy to bring forward the five loaves and two fish, one of the loveliest images in the Gospels. Even so, with this small offering, Jesus is able to feed the multitude and there is an abundance of scraps left over, enough to fill twelve baskets. Leaving aside any possible numerical symbolism, with the humblest of gifts Jesus is able to feed a vast number of people and there’s a lot left to share with others. Like the manna in the wilderness, the food with which Jesus feeds us just does not run out. He who created all that exists out of nothing can feed the hungry and nourish our souls. However, as with the widow’s mite, he does appreciate the little we can give, especially if it is given with a loving and generous heart. At Mass we give him bread and wine and receive in return his Body and Blood. What an extraordinary exchange of gifts!
Now, as we all know, it is not the amount of food you eat that matters, in fact overeating or eating the wrong things can kill you. With the smallest amount of wholesome and nourishing food you can lead a healthy life. Even the smallest crumb of Christ’s body and the tiniest drop of his blood suffice for us to receive the whole Christ and in the Son the Father and the Holy Spirit.
In his wonderful book “The Shape of the Liturgy”, written so many years ago, Dom Gregory Dix said, “Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and groom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead loved one; - one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, priests have done just this to make holy the people of God.”
Today we give thanks to God for the Sacrament that makes us holy and we thank him for the immense privilege of celebrating the holy sacrifice of the Mass together for our salvation and for the salvation of all those whose hearts we touch in prayer. Amen